India reveals names in quest for hidden foreign 'black money'

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's government revealed Monday the names of three prominent businessmen accused of illegally stashing funds in foreign bank accounts as it seeks to recover billions of dollars parked abroad.

The ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pledged to crack down on "black money" after winning power in May, accusing the previous Congress government of failing to get tough on the issue that had become a political lightning rod.

The government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on Monday naming Pradip Burman, a former executive director of the Dabur food group, bullion trader Pankaj Chimanlal Lodhiya and mine operator Radha Timbola as among those under scrutiny.

The government said in its affidavit it was "committed to disclose the names of persons holding illegal money... following due process of law, and in all cases where tax evasion is established".

The government was under pressure to file the affidavit following petitions including from activist Subramanian Swamy, who has waged an aggressive campaign to prosecute wealthy people with undeclared funds offshore.

Sambit Patra, a BJP spokesman, called disclosure of the names "a historic day in the black money case".

"The process of disclosure of names has started," Patra told reporters, referring to a list that local media says contains hundreds of names.

But opposition Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh accused the BJP of "selective revelation" of names and said the process smacked of "blackmail, not black money".

Several prominent figures of the Congress party, dogged by multi-billion-dollar graft scandals while in power, are reportedly on the list of people with untaxed funds abroad but their names have not been disclosed.

Subramanian Swamy said he did not understand why the government had not disclosed all of the names of alleged offenders at once.

"I do not see any legal issues in releasing all 700 names. I hope the government will release all the names very soon," he told India's CNN-IBN television network.

Swiftly after taking office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi set up a team of regulators and ex-judges to repatriate illicit funds kept in Swiss and other foreign bank accounts to avoid taxes.

There is no firm estimate of the amount of black money at home and abroad, but it is believed to amount to hundreds of billions of dollars.

The Dabur group said in a statement that Burman opened his foreign account while a non-resident Indian and "was legally allowed to open this account".

Lodhiya told reporters he was in compliance with all tax laws, adding, "I have no foreign bank account".

The mine operator named was not immediately available for comment.